Since I was raised Catholic, my household didn’t have an aversion to the theory of evolution like many Christian denominations do. Yes, there were hints that god had to step in a bit and tinker now and then, but on the whole I learned about evolution in a fairly straight-forward manner. Later, as an adult and by then an atheist, I was confronted with this idea that evolution is made up, and the completely jaw-dropping reality that a majority of voters in the U.S. do not accept the theory.
This is probably the single most important reason why I am as open about my atheism as I can be, and why I blog about it. The implications of the theory of evolution are what modern biology and medical science are built upon! Solid understanding of evolution is what allows us to feed the world. Solid understanding of evolution is what allows us to test all manner of medical procedures and pharmaceutical products. Solid understanding of evolution is allowing us to design better computer systems. Solid understanding of evolution allows us to use DNA evidence. Solid understanding of evolution allows us to develop useful vaccines and pest control. And if the title of this article doesn’t give it away, solid understanding of evolution explains your religion.
Yes, your religion evolved. I really don’t care what your religion is, but I’m confident that your religion evolved. But for my own familiarity, I’ll compare evolutionary theory with Christianity.
First, the basics. Evolution is a change in gene frequency in a population. Evolution is a fact because you are different from your parents. The Theory of Evolution extrapolates the fact of evolution over many generations, combined with different selection pressure, to result in a new species. Over many generations these two species grow further apart, resulting in a wider difference of genes, that results in different genus. More generations and further drift of genes, you get different families. Etc. Along the way, each generation must be a functioning organism, and must be able to reproduce.
And that’s the theory of evolution in a nutshell. So, let’s check out Christianity, and go way back to it’s common ancestor in Judaism. Judaism in it’s somewhat modern form came into being about 600 BCE, which evolved from other religious ideas. But we have to start somewhere.
For about 600 years, there were variations of Judaism, though on the whole were fairly consistent. There were, for example, a number of savior cults within Judaism at the time. These savior cults were able to exist in their own right, and were functioning factions of Judaism. So the “gene” for savior cult was there, it just didn’t offer any particular advantage, so it wasn’t “selected” for, and often just went away. However, one savior cult gene mutated slightly. This savior cult developed the ability to convert non-Jews. Unlike other savior cults, this cult readily accepted members without the additional function of having to accept all the Jewish laws and chop off the end of your pecker.
This was a big hit with the guys.
This evolutionary advantage allowed the Jesus cult of Judaism to flourish. Because it had such an overwhelming advantage over the other cults, the population of the Jesus cult grew. By now, it was a separate genus. As the membership grew and moved into other countries, the gene frequency had shifted from kinda Jewish to something slightly different again. By the beginning of the second century, Christianity had become a completely separate family. Jesus was no longer a Jewish savior, he was a world savior. Around the fourth century, this drift faced more selection pressure in the form of political control. Some Christian doctrines survived the pressure while others did not. The doctrines that survived went on to assemble the bible. It was now Catholicism, and was a separate order from Judaism.
With the bible and the backing of political and military might, this version of Christianity was able to spread across Europe. With it’s highly successful adaptations, it was able to survive with relatively little change for hundreds of years. Then, in the early 1500s, a new selection pressure came about- literacy. Now, this order with relatively little diversity had to adapt again. A particular mutation, who went by the name Martin Luther, had ideas that were both different but completely sustainable as a separate theology. And since literacy was increasing across Europe, his message was appealing enough to survive and the frequency of genes shifted away from the base genes. Lutheranism speciated away from Catholicism.
Christianity continued to evolve, and continues to this very day. Islam broke off in the 600s. Mormonism broke off in the first half of the 1800s. The slavery gene, quite prevalent throughout the history of mankind and highly endorsed by the church, became a detrimental trait due to a change of environment in the late 1800s (although remnants of the slavery gene still remain.) The pro-homosexuality gene is increasingly being selected today.
Each one of the 30,000 denominations of Christianity is it’s own species with it’s own gene frequency. They are grouped in their own genus, like Southern Baptist, Alliance of Baptists, Central Baptist, Reformed Baptist, etc. The family is Baptist, or Adventism, Calvanism, or Pentecostal. The order is Protestantism, Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox, etc. The class is Christianity, Islam, Judaism. The phylum is Monotheism or Polytheism. The kingdom is Theism.
I can’t believe how perfect that just fit the biology classification table, by the way. That was freakin’ awesome!
So yes, the religion evolved. And again, I can’t believe how perfectly this works, at the classification level of order is where the split is far enough where the groups no longer feel commonality. Humans don’t think they “came from no monkey”, and Protestants and Catholics kill each other, as do Shia and Sunni’s. But we know for a fact that Protestants simply evolved from Catholics. They aren’t evil, their genetic frequency drifted toward the most beneficial outcome for that population. And along the way, the protestants of the mid 1500s weren’t half Catholic, half Protestant. They were Catholics with slightly different mutations, and still a complete religious ideology that survived and reproduced.
And yes, humans evolved from early primates when a group of them found food in the savannas of Africa. While their cousins hundreds of miles away were able to live and breed while developing tree-dwelling characteristics, these primates were stuck trying to negotiate tall grasses to eat, and not be eaten.
While a slight difference in bone structure and flexibility doesn’t really help or hinder us today, those early primates that were able to straighten up a little more had an advantage over the others and were able to spot trouble and run away a little earlier. Since the primates that were able to straighten up a bit more were able to not get eaten as much, they had more kids that shared their physical structure, and the genetic frequency shifted. With continued selection over generations, a more curved hip bone that allowed upright walking and running became more frequent, while those with flatter hips became the odd exception, and eventually disappeared.
Along with hip structure, individuals that had the spine attach to the skull ever so slightly lower had better head movement, and therefore gained a slight advantage both in upright walking and increased left-to-right head movement. Taking advantage of better head movement while upright, those individuals that had this slight advantage tended to live long enough to reproduce more than the others, and more and more children were born with a skull with a lower spine attachment.
By jumping multiple generations at a time, we can see how the average location of the spinal attachment was slightly but successively lower, and the average hip roundness was slightly but successively rounder overall. Lower cranial attachment also meant bigger brain, and we became smarter. We became better at developing tools. We developed communities. We began to actually modify our environment to suit our purpose, instead of just use our environment. We developed language. We developed agriculture and domesticated animals. We developed societies. We built pyramids.
Evolution is change in genetic frequency in generations. The Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection explains how small changes in populations over time add up to big changes, and even bigger changes over more time. Your religion evolved. So did we.
The Spartan Atheist